Wednesday, April 14, 2010

“In polite society, we don’t say “yoohoo.” We say “yoowhom”

Well, this is it, 1947’s Song of the Thin Man is the last one of the series. After the disappointment of the last film, its probably a good thing that this is the last one.

All right, so a sleazy jazz band leader who owes the mob a lot of money and doesn’t have any friends at a charity benefit on a luxury boat/casino and gets murdered in the night while trying to steal from the till. Nick & Nora, who were guests at the party where this guy was murdered, eventually get wrapped up in figuring out what’s going on and get swept up in a late night world of jazz music and murder.

Nick Charles: William Powell looks pretty old in this one (time will do that), but he’s still as charming as ever. Not forced to be a teetotaler this time, there’s a running gag of him always getting thwarted from taking a drink. Not bad, but not quite the same. Still badass though.

Nora Charles: Myrna Loy is still awesome and lovely, and she gets quite a bit to do, even facing peril on her own in one of the movie’s darker scenes. Still badass.

Nick Charles Jr.: Dean Stock well (who should be familiar to you, considering he played Al on Quantum Leap when he grew up, among a lot of other things). He’s not a major figure in the film, and even comments to his parents that they don’t do anything with him anymore.

Tommy Drake: Phillip Reed is the jerk of a bandleader who gets offed at the beginning of the movie. He’s just an all around sleaze who’s got plenty of enemies with suitable motives for wanting him dead. Even his bandmates don’t like him.

Buddy Hollis: Don Taylor is the star clarinet player in Drake’s band and the ex-boyfriend of the lead singer (who left him for Drake). Buddy’s also got himself a problem with a vaguely explained substance that has him disappearing for days at a time. After the murder, he disappears from the scene.

Fran Ledue Page: Gloria Grahame is the girl that got between Buddy & Tommy. She definitely regrets leaving Buddy, but does she regret it enough to KILL??

Clarence “Klinker” Krause: Keenan Wynn (son of vaudeville legend & comedian Ed Wynn) is another clarinetist in the band who ends up helping Nick & Nora look for Buddy. Pretty resourceful as far as sidekicks go.

Phil Brant: Bruce Cowling is the guy who pretty much organized the event on the boat, and Drake owed him money too. When Drake is killed, he’s the prime suspect.

Janet Thayar Brant: Jayne Meadows (the wife & widow of comedian and original host of “The Tonight Show” Steve Allen) is a headstrong young woman who elopes with Phil against her father’s wishes. Naturally, her motives are in question.

David Thayer: Ralph Morgan is Janet’s father and a collector of antique pistols, one of which was used to shoot Drake. Hmmmm.

Mitchell Talbin: Leon Ames is a promoter that Drake was going to sign on with and do a tour for. Drake needed money from him badly.

Al Amboy: William Bishop plays a shady racketeer that Drake owes money to. He tries to strongarm Nick & Nora for information.

Edward Buzzell (who directed one of the Marx Brothers' later films, At The Circus) and director of photography Charles Rosher give the film a moody, rather noir-ish look. There’s even some touches of German Expressionism in the architecture in some scenes. Its an interesting shift, and understandable since noir proper was in full swing by 1947.

So, we’ve got story by Stanley Roberts, screenplay by Steve Fisher & Nat Perrin and “additional dialogue” by James O’Hanlon & Harry Crane (it’s a safe bet that they handled the jazz lingo) and things get interesting. Nick & Nora still sparkle and Klinker’s actually not a bad addition as the sidekick. What’s interesting is that things actually take a pretty dark turn.

The score by David Snell continues to be solid but not that remarkable. There’s also, understandably, a lot of jazz music blowing around the film.

Song of the Thin Man is definitely different, taking things in a slightly darker direction, but after the anemic The Thin Man Goes Home, its actually not a bad way for the series to go out. Still, it doesn’t really match the comedic genius of the first four Thin Man films. Still, if you’re watching the last couple films, that means you’ve got the boxed set, and since you’ve come this far, you might as well watch. I mean, the series is just damn great overall, really taking Dashiell Hammett’s characters and making them shine, and that’s a major credit to the chemistry between Powell & Loy. Nick & Nora are quite possibly my favorite screen couple of all time.

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